More Beautiful is the Future
An Investigative Journalist Takes One Last Assignment
It was supposed to be a weekend assignment. Go, review, write, return. No more than three days of time… then back to Santiago and drink on the company dime. The assignment was a village in the hills of northern Chile in what was once mining country.
My arrival at the village was greeted by children. The jeep pulled into a small motor pool at the foot of the town. A band of children came running across the fields. Leading the pack was an astonishingly fast gangly girl. She got to the car first by a mile but was out of breath in the effort.
‘Hello, mister, where, are you, from?’ A heaving breath punctuating each word. Before I could answer, a dozen children were upon us thrusting questions like so many spears into cornered prey.
‘Kids relax,’ the driver told them. ‘You'll have plenty of time to talk later, he’s staying the weekend’ and feeling spirits drain he added, ‘You can give the tour when he’s settled. Now, please, it’s been a long way.’ With mild dissent they ambled off splitting into smaller groups and disappearing beyond the buildings. I shouted after the girl, ‘Cincinnati, Ohio’. It earned a beaming smile before she darted off to the others.
I was guided to a house among several other structures. No two were very much alike. My driver said they were cobb mostly, new residents were allowed to design their own. The walls were supported by old tires or other refuse covered in the adobe like substance. According to him, few buildings were made of anything else. Grandpa and Grandma made the first ones that way, because it allowed for more architectural expression.The building that was to be where I stayed housed several others who were out. The inside was cool, and pleasantly bathed in dark blue light. There was a contingent of glassworkers, who had started with greenhouses. The largest building was their dining and meeting hall. An a-frame 40 yards across and 20 deep.
My first stop was to assist them in the fields. The farming was taken at a leisurely pace. Led by gangly girl we saw lush orchards of avocado and mango, and a sty filled with pigs that I could have sworn smiled when they saw me. I had not seen grandma or grandpa to that point and asked her if they work in the fields.
‘Grandpa has a bad hip. He helps in the orchards as long as the weather isn't too cold, he is probably in his workshop right now. And grandma takes care of just about everything.’
Some things that grow there are appalling. Alongside the fruit, vegetables, goats, and grains grew cannabis, opium, and hallucinogens. The gangly girl shrugged saying some of the adults used them and to ask grandpa.
Work lasted about halfway till lunch. Gnocchi in curry sauce with goat for the meat eaters. The gangly girl dragged me off right after lunch to show off the music. Many of the instruments were made right there on the property. She played a bamboo flute. It was led by a young man with hollow eyes and a mandolin.. It started as a cacophony of sound but slowly order found its way in. the mandolin player’s fingers ran across those strings like the gangly girl through those fields.
Afterwards the woman they knew as grandma came to find me. She was short, but not diminutive. Her hair was silver and down to her knees in a massive braid, one of the strands colored the same icy blue as her eyes.
‘Grandpa would like to see you now, come walk with me.’
‘This is quite the place, they said when it started it was just the two of you’
‘It was, us two scratching it out on our own. We started accepting guests for help. Travellers helped us set up and some wanted to stay. Others arrived and brought music, art, and knowledge. So we built the environment to foster them, we don't charge our guests. Just ask they contribute something. Everyone, even the kids have responsibilities. As long as they are done, no one will tell you what else to do with your time.’
‘Where did you come from? I know you’re both American but little else exists on either you or Grandpa.’
‘Grandpa and I came to get away from a too busy world just expecting isolation. I was a stripper and grandpa was an accountant before, now I’m chief engineer of these buildings with no formal education to speak of. I have to admit though, grandpa’s touch is what led to the more... extreme buildings.’
We found him in a structure that had to be one of the ones she spoke of. It was in the style of Catalonian cathedrals, miniaturized. Complete with stained glass windows filled with natural iconography. Trees, animals and mushrooms in vibrant oranges and frosty white. He smelled deeply of the saw dust that coated his hair and got in the wrinkles around his mouth. The shop looked built to match his height and all the tools ran on electricity, the source of which I had yet to see.
‘Hello darling,’ he said to grandma, they kissed deeply and whispered something that made them both giggle. She left us then in that chaotic sanctuary strewn with stray wood, tools, drawings, and rags. ‘Come help me with this,’ he beckoned to me. He had me hold something he was carving, talking as he worked. ‘So you have come to report on us. I fancied myself something of a writer, once. Nowhere else felt as safe and unpoliced as here. Our neighbors down the valley have started trading with us for fruit and meat, most of the cutlery and rugs came from them.’
‘Oh, yes, when we bought this land we brought only enough things for the two of us. But, as the community grew we needed more of everything. But, we’d spent all our money on the land. So, we just asked people bring their necessities. Now we don’t waste anything, we fertilize with our own shit and use the gases to generate electricity. We eat the meat of the goats we use to clear the fields, and are doing our best to support the surrounding ecologies recovery from decades past. Now we have a forge, a distillery and a mushroom cellar.’
‘I've always wanted to make my own whiskey.’
‘Here you can.’
The assignment was supposed to last two days. I’m sending these notes to you for publishing, edit how you want. I won’t be coming back.